News / Europe

How the Separatists Delivered Crimea to Moscow

Crimean Premier Sergei Aksyonov attends the swearing in ceremony for the first unit of a pro-Russian armed force, dubbed the "military forces of the autonomous republic of Crimea" in Simferopol, Ukraine, March 8, 2014.
Crimean Premier Sergei Aksyonov attends the swearing in ceremony for the first unit of a pro-Russian armed force, dubbed the "military forces of the autonomous republic of Crimea" in Simferopol, Ukraine, March 8, 2014.
Reuters
Within a week of its building being taken over by armed gunmen last month, the regional parliament in Crimea was voting in favor of the Ukrainian region becoming part of Russia.
 
How that was achieved under the leadership of Sergei Aksyonov, 41, a Russian separatist whose political party won 4 percent of the vote at the parliamentary election in 2010, was a master class in vote rigging and intimidation, according to several opposition lawmakers.
 
“It was all a great spectacle, a tragic spectacle,” said Leonid Pilunsky, one of a number of regional lawmakers who say a vote behind closed doors to install Aksyonov was fixed and key decisions were taken before anyone could respond.
 
A pro-Russian man (not seen) holds a Russian flag behind an armed servicemen on top of a Russian army vehicle outside a Ukrainian border guard post in the Crimean town of Balaclava, March 1, 2014.A pro-Russian man (not seen) holds a Russian flag behind an armed servicemen on top of a Russian army vehicle outside a Ukrainian border guard post in the Crimean town of Balaclava, March 1, 2014.
x
A pro-Russian man (not seen) holds a Russian flag behind an armed servicemen on top of a Russian army vehicle outside a Ukrainian border guard post in the Crimean town of Balaclava, March 1, 2014.
A pro-Russian man (not seen) holds a Russian flag behind an armed servicemen on top of a Russian army vehicle outside a Ukrainian border guard post in the Crimean town of Balaclava, March 1, 2014.
Moscow says Crimea is in the grip of a home-spun uprising, a popular response to the revolt in Kiev which ousted Ukraine's Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovich.
 
But for the authorities in Kiev and local politicians still loyal to Ukraine, the rapid pace of events were evidence of a carefully orchestrated campaign from Moscow.
 
Moscow denies any role in installing Aksyonov, who is known from his business days by the nickname “The Goblin”. But even those close to the Kremlin say Russia picked him.
 
“Moscow always bet on Yanukovich. But after the coup in Kiev on Feb. 22 ... Moscow decided it needed to back the secession of Crimea from Ukraine. Then they looked for who could be its leader,” said Sergei Markov, a political analyst sympathetic to the Kremlin who often explains its workings abroad.
 
“They chose Aksyonov.”

Enter the goblin
 
Crimea, Ukraine.Crimea, Ukraine.
x
Crimea, Ukraine.
Crimea, Ukraine.
The day before the takeover of Crimea began, on February 26, the region's parliament met to debate holding a referendum on loosening ties with Kiev. The atmosphere was volatile.
 
In the four days since Yanukovich had fled Kiev, pro-Russian groups had been signing up volunteers to self-defense militias, spurred by Russian television reports that armed Ukrainian nationalists would descend from the capital.
 
While Crimea's parliamentarians met, thousands of pro-Russian demonstrators clashed outside the building with protesters supporting unity with Kiev.
 
The vote on the referendum was not held that day: there were not enough lawmakers to reach a quorum after Pilunsky and another opposition lawmaker refused to register as present. “They begged, appealed and threatened us,” he said.
 
The next morning before dawn, armed men seized the building, and from then on, journalists were excluded and it was not possible to verify whether a quorum was reached. Lawmakers had their phones confiscated at the door.
 
Among those not allowed in was Anatoly Mogilyov, Crimea's regional prime minister, appointed by Yanukovich. Mogilyov had spoken out against breaking away from Kiev, and the ruling party he represented - Yanukovich's Party of the Regions which controlled 80 seats in the 100 seat legislature - was publicly committed to autonomy within Ukraine.
 
Nevertheless, that night parliament's website said 53 lawmakers had voted to replace Mogilyov with Aksyonov, and 61 had voted to hold a referendum on “sovereignty”.
 
Crimea's Information Minister Dmitry Polonsky, asked whether installing the new leaders in parliament was rigged, said: “There is one supreme power in Crimea which is its parliament and with a majority of votes it is legitimate and legal.
 
“It is impossible to rig a vote in the Supreme Soviet (parliament). There are deputies who push buttons or raise their hands and if the majority have voted for, then the issue is resolved. There are no ways for influencing the vote or falsifying the vote.”
 
Aksyonov did not immediately return calls.
 
The Kremlin also says the vote to install Aksyonov followed all legal procedures in Crimea, but no independent journalists were permitted inside to witness it. At least one Party of Regions deputy told Reuters his vote was recorded as cast for Aksyonov though he was not in the city, much less the building.
 
“I wasn't even in Simferopol but my vote was counted,” said the lawmaker, who spoke on condition he not be identified, saying he had received threatening calls and text messages.
 
The lawmaker said duplicate voting cards were taken from parliament's safe to allow votes to be cast in the name of people who were not present. He was aware of at least 10 votes that were cast for people who were not in the chamber. They have not come forward for fear of reprisals, he added.
 
“Let me tell you how they scared people: After the first vote was fabricated, they told us that they would open criminal cases against anyone who spoke out,” he said. “Those in power are not really politicians but businessmen. It's very easy to put pressure on them. They have a lot to lose.”

Save their skins
 
Crimea is the only part of Ukraine with an ethnic Russian majority, and the 1990s saw frequent agitation for independence there, especially when relations between Kiev and Moscow were tense. Washington and Kiev blamed Moscow for stirring it up.
 
In a 2006 cable released by WikiLeaks, the U.S. embassy reported back to Washington that Moscow's agents were active again, after the 2004-2005 “Orange Revolution” that brought anti-Russian politicians to power in Kiev.
 
Of all the Russian-backed groups in Crimea, the cable identified the Russian Society of Crimea as the one “with the most overt contacts with Moscow”. The man identified in the cable as its leader, Sergei Tsekov, is now deputy speaker of the Crimean parliament and one of Aksyonov's main lieutenants.
 
In 2010, Aksyonov led the political wing of Tsekov's Russian Society, a party called Russian Unity, into parliamentary elections. The party won just 4 percent of the vote, or 3 seats.
 
“In spite of all the financing and help he got from Moscow, his party was not able to do better in elections because these currents in Crimean society are not that strong,” said Andrei Senchenko, an opposition member of Kiev's parliament who hails from Crimea.
 
On their website, Russian Unity and the Russian Society are clear about their aim to reunite the province with Moscow, saying: “the future of Crimea and Ukraine is union with Russia”.
 
The last time Crimeans were asked about Moscow's rule, in 1991, they voted narrowly for independence along with the rest of Ukraine. Despite the tensions of the 1990s, open support for secession or reunion with Russia had become a fringe view as long as the sympathetic Yanukovich held power in Kiev.
 
But as Yanukovich's grip looked less solid, there were already signs the Kremlin was seeking more influence in Crimea.
 
In early February, Crimean media reported that one of Putin's closest aides, Vladislav Surkov, had visited Crimea.
 
Once Yanukovich fell, lawmakers in Kiev from the ousted president's Party of Regions backed the new government that replaced him. But in Crimea, some party members swung behind Aksyonov. Crucially, he won the support of the Crimean parliament speaker Vladimir Konstantinov.
 
That allowed control over votes being held behind closed doors inside the assembly building under guard of armed men.
 
Pilunsky, the Crimean opposition lawmaker, said ruling party figures in Crimea had switched allegiance to Moscow to protect themselves from the prospect of investigation by the new authorities in Kiev over their years in power in the province.
 
Party of Regions figures blame the new government in Kiev for failing to negotiate quickly enough to head off secession.
 
“The breakup of Ukraine began in Kiev,” said Vadim Kolesnichenko, a Party of Regions lawmaker from Crimea in Ukraine's parliament.
 
“At first, the question was only about enlarging Crimea's autonomy within Ukraine,” he said. “When instead of talks, Kiev launched criminal investigations [against Crimea's new leaders] ... That is when it became clear: how long can we live in isolation?”
 
Then, as Aksyonov seized control, Russian lawmakers were flown into Crimea, promising Moscow's financial backing and support.

Referendum
 
Only a week after gunmen planted the Russian flag on the local parliament, Aksyonov and his allies held another vote and declared parliament was appealing to Putin to annex Crimea. The referendum would be moved forward to March 16 and voters would now be asked if they wanted to join Russia, it said.
 
Again, a number of lawmakers say they were not present. Nor were reporters. Those deputies who did attend were not told in advance what the vote would be about.
 
In a video provided by the regional government press service, speaker Konstantinov is shown addressing some 10 deputies sitting in two mostly empty front rows.
 
“We will vote on a resolution on joining the Russian Federation and they must decide before the referendum if they will accept us so people don't look stupid voting for Russia.”
 
The decision was announced outside parliament to a roaring a crowd, chanting “Rossiya! Rossiya!” and waving the Russian tricolor. Parliament said 78 deputies had backed it.
 
That day, Russia's parliament also adopted legislation making it easier to annex territory.
 
The outcome of the referendum is in little doubt. Billboards tell Crimeans they have a choice between a map of Crimea painted with a Russian flag or one emblazoned with a Swastika.
 
Voters have been given a choice between joining Crimea to Russia or restoring an earlier constitution which would declare it a sovereign part of Ukraine. The regional assembly has voted that if sovereign, Crimea would join Russia anyway.
 
Those who favor continued ties with Kiev are widely expected to abstain, including the 250,000 Crimean Tatars, the most solid supporters of ties with Kiev, who fear rule by Russia which deported them en masse to Uzbekistan under Stalin.

You May Like

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Ends Ebola Lockdown

Health ministry says it has reached 75 percent of its target of visiting 1.5 million homes to locate infected, educate population about virus More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As tumult in Middle East distracts Obama administration, efforts to shift American focus eastward appear threatened More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: connie from: Canada
March 13, 2014 5:49 PM
The US is so wrong with what there doing to the Ukraine, why is it the US media not covering the leaked calls from Victoria Nuland, and the EU call with Estonia, it tells us right there that the EU and Washington are behind this mess. I can't believe other countries aren't outraged with the US and EU. Russia has every right to defend there interest in Crimea and if Crimea wants to go with Russia that's up to them to decide not Washingtons.


by: Regula from: USA
March 13, 2014 12:56 AM
This story is no more than western foul-mouthing and deliberated false information. The US has so far refused to admit that the rightwing extremists are in fact neo-Nazis, the offspring of those who fought against Russia together with the Nazis. And the US has refused to admit that these neo-Nazis rioted and set police on fire, hit on police with steel pipes, sticks and chains in Maidan. And the US has refused to admit that these neo-Nazis who have now been made the "security force", harass people, infiltrate crimea and confiscate or rip up peoples passports to prevent them from voting on the referendum this Sunday.

Yes, the US has lost the Russian speaking population in Ukraine - because everybody understood what a criminal interference the US engages in.

Obama needs to be impeached. The US people want a foreign policy based on legal, diplomatic interactions with other countries, not the use of criminals to topple legal governments to force any independent nation under the US dictat.

In Response

by: Derek from: NY
March 13, 2014 9:49 AM
What is the relevance to Crimea of whether right-wing groups were involved in the anti-Yanukovich protests? Why would that justify Russia invading the sovereign territory of Ukraine or Russian separatists rigging a vote for secession and intimaditing opponents? How can there be a genuine referendum w/ Russian soldiers in Crimea and pro-Russian groups attacking anyone who opposes them? How is the Russian invasion of Crimea not a violation of int'l law?

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbiti
X
September 22, 2014 9:20 PM
NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbit

NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video For West Ukraine City, Conflict Far Away Yet Near

The western Ukrainian city of Lviv prides itself on being both physically and culturally close to Western Europe. The Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country are 1,200 kilometers away, and seemingly even farther away in their world view. Still, as VOA’s Al Pessin reports, the war is having an impact in Lviv.
Video

Video Saving Global Fish Stocks Starts in the Kitchen

With an estimated 90 percent of the world’s larger fish populations having already vanished, a growing number of people in the seafood industry are embracing the concept of sustainable fishing and farming practices. One American marine biologist turned restaurateur in Thailand is spreading the word among fellow chefs and customers. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Chinese Admiral Key in China’s Promotion of Sea Links

China’s President last week wrapped up landmark visits to India, Sri Lanka and Maldives, part of a broader campaign to promote a new “Maritime Silk Road” in Asia. The Chinese government’s promotion efforts rely heavily on the country’s best-known sailor, a 15th century eunuch named Zheng He. VOA's Bill Ide reports from the sailor’s hometown in Yunnan on the effort to promote China’s future by recalling its past.
Video

Video Experts Fear Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid